INTERVIEW: ALESSANDRO TATINI, K-ARRAY
‘Something a bit crazy – as usual’
Since the company’s distinctive ﬂat panel array speakers were released just over a decade ago, K-array has been known for taking a different approach to loudspeaker design. Paddy Baker talked to its founder and president of R&D about the company’s origins, design philosophy and what makes it stand out from the rest
s a loudspeaker manufacturer, K-array been in business since 2006, but the company was founded in 1990. At that time, says Alessandro Tatini (known as Alex), founder and president of R&D, “we were a small local rental company, doing some installation work, especially in churches and conference rooms.” There were three people in the Florence-based company then: Tatini, his father and Massimo Ferrati (today, company president and CFO). From the very beginning, the company designed and built some of its own products, including microphones and ampliﬁers. “Around 1994, an Italian pro audio company saw some of those products installed, and they asked us to produce those products with their brand,” explains Tatini. That was the ﬁrst step to becoming a manufacturer, although for the next few years, until around 2000, the company “did a lot of R&D for a lot of Italian and also foreign pro audio companies”. Around this time Tatini recruited two other people to the R&D team. “Around 1996, 1997 we became more of a real production operation, and we started to do some
production of mixers for an Italian brand, and some speakers and mics.” Another major milestone was in 2000 when the team started developing and manufacturing products for its own brand, XXL. “This was related mostly to the MI market, and had 90% of its turnover in Italy and a few per cent in other European countries.” They ran this for eight years before selling it to another Italian company.
Global market In 2006, they decided to return to their roots in installed sound and rental, “and to try to design products that looked to a global market, not just to the Italian market”. The aim was to produce high-performing products at reasonable prices. “We were aware that you cannot produce cheap in Italy, there’s no way to do that – so we decided to focus on quality and innovation.” K-array’s ﬁrst major product was the original KH4, a the ﬁrst slim array speaker, just 6in deep. Tatini says it acted as “a kind of calling card for us” for around ten years – production was only discontinued last year with the introduction of a new line. In 2008 Sennheiser started distributing K-array
“almost all around the world” – which Tatini describes as “a very proﬁtable collaboration”. This continued up to a couple of years ago, when Sennheiser decided not to distribute any more third-party brands, he says, but “we kept a very nice relationship with the guys there, including the two Sennheiser brothers.” The result was that 60% of K-array’s turnover changed its distribution network in the space of two months. “The period 2015-16 was challenging for us on the sales side. But today the situation is really better, because we don’t have kind of just one big customer, but a lot of independent distributors, with whom we have individual relationships. We’re growing at almost at the same rate that we were accustomed to when we started with Sennheiser, so we are really happy.”
Fixing something How did the ﬂat panel array come about? There was a need for innovation at that time, says Tatini. “The market was full of regular standard line arrays. That doesn’t mean bad quality, but the approach was almost the same for all the brands. We understood that for there to be